Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Getting Real Again

Let's see.   Where did we leave off last Sunday?   My writing partner and I had developed a kids sitcom for Nickelodeon and Linda Ellerbee's production company.   Of course, the people who liked it at the cable network were shitcanned.   Leaving us in the cold.

But, at least, we had gotten paid.  And these two newbie TV writers immediately spent the dough on...what else?

New computers.   Plus we invested in special script software.   Back then, the "unofficial" software of the biz was something called Scriptware.   Yeah, that lasted about two years and then something called Final Draft came along.   Everybody is still using that.

But, despite the disappointment, we were still sky high.   And enjoying a perk or two from our months in development hell.  For instance, as we continued to market ourselves, we became acquainted with a Hollywood TV writer named Marc Cherry in his pre-"Desperate Housewives" days.   He was a nice guy and very responsive to us.   One of the reasons why?

"I am so impressed that you worked for Linda Ellerbee.   I am a huge fan of hers."


Never ones to miss an opportunity, we asked Linda to personally autograph a copy of her latest book to Marc.   As a result, over the years, Marc Cherry has never forgotten us.  It's the little things you do that can make big differences when you're trying to forge ahead in any career.

Plus we used our so-called "credits" to finally venture out to Los Angeles for a couple of trips to see what the show business world had to offer us.  We had made some friends already and added to the list.

And then there was the agent hunt.

Because we had collected some money actually writing, we were inviting to those predators who live off talent commissions.  So we got a few doors opened. One woman impressed us with her tenacity and she invited us out for a drink.   Throughout the conversation, she circled around representation but never really made a direct comment about it.  At that point, my writing partner, who is never been known for being aggressive, blurted out over some cheese and crackers.

"So are you going to sign us or what?"

I practically did a Danny Thomas spit take at the table.

The papers were signed the next day.  And she was our agent for two years until she quit the business to become a yoga teacher in Ojai.   Her office is now a jewelry store in Studio City.

Them's da breaks.  

It was on one of those LA sojourns that we suddenly got a call from my pal who worked for Linda Ellerbee.

"When are you coming back to NY?  ABC is interested in the show for Saturday morning."

Frankly, we couldn't care less if ABC would run it at 3AM.  We hightailed it back to the Big Apple for a lunch meeting with some woman now running ABC's kid fare.   She was already in love with the idea.   And, over quiche somewhere in Greenwich Village, Linda piled onto the love fest.

"These guys essentially created me as a child.  It's like they were there with me."


We lapped this all up.   I, of course, couldn't help but stare at the ABC woman. Given our track record, did she realize that her love for this project would soon have her out of work?  

We became the process of crafting a new pilot script for the kids.  And then we had our first major misstep.  We came in a little long.   Not Ben-Hur length, but certainly a little longer than the average length of a Saturday morning show with all the requisite cereal and Mattel Toy commercials.  The word back from ABC was that, if this show went anywhere, these geniuses would have to take a back seat to some experienced showrunner.

And, rightfully so.   We had no clue on any of this.  But, at the same time, we sensed that our gold had tarnished a little bit.   We enlisted the aid of a Hollywood lawyer to at least ensure we had some financial connection to the show if it moved forward.   After all, there could be Get Real videos and dolls and games and T-shirts.  Plus, since we had created these kids, we at least wanted some sort of custody agreement where we got to see them every other weekend and on holidays.  He began his negotiations with the powers that were.

But a deal never got signed.   Why not?   I remember it vividly.  We were back on one of our LA haunts again.   We had just eaten breakfast in Marina Del Rey and I was reading Daily Variety.

The woman running ABC Saturday morning?  Gone.

I should have warned her.   Meanwhile, we had gotten as real as we were ever going to get.  And our lawyer promptly stopped his negotiation.


About four years later, we're permanent residents of Los Angeles.   And I get a frantic call from my writing partner who's watching TV.

"Linda Ellerbee's on with Rosie O'Donnell!  And the kids are now in paperback books.   And Linda's wearing a "Get Real" baseball hat."

Sure enough.

Okay, if you think you're now going to hear about a protracted plagarism trial, you're wrong.   All the work we had done for them was on a "work for hire" basis.  Since there was no subsequent ownership deal, we had no legs to stand on.  And, frankly, the series of paperbacks probably didn't net that much cash for her.   I'd like to say we were mad at her, but we weren't.   She was top notch with us all the way around and a total professional.

It was as Abe Vigoda said in "The Godfather."

"It was just business, Michael."

And so it went.

Oh, and about the character name "Casey."   Yes, it was used in these books. But there is no ownership over that.   So we are using it again.   Except this time it's the name of a pretty second mate on a commuter ferry.   Stay tuned for more details.

And so that will go.   We hope.

Dinner last night:  French dip panini at the Arclight.

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